If a child is not into books, how can we help books find their way to the child?

Published on: 19 August 2019 Author: Candy Gourlay

Candy Gourlay, our former Writer in Residence, guides families through the many ways that a book can be just as exciting and compelling as any Netflix series, computer game or competing hobby. It's all down to finding the right for the right child – and remembering it's meant to be FUN! 

Illustration by Fiona Lumbers

Although I have been a bookworm all my life, I can’t say the same for my children. Their passions run to a gamut of other things – rugby, drama, gymnastics, sailing, guitar, piano, wizards, plush seals, pranking Dad. But they have never yearned to read, never opted for a book over their varied interests. 

Not everyone is a reader – and that’s OK.

But that does not mean a book can have no role in his or her life.

When we enable a child’s passions, we are creating happy childhoods. This is our gift to the children who are a part of our life. A happy childhood is like armour for the turbulence that adulthood will soon bring.

And I sincerely believe that happy childhoods should include beloved books. The books I loved as a child continue to hold me up, keep me strong. They were my safe place, and remembering them returns me to that feeling of security and comfort. And it was GOOD TRAINING – virtual practice! – for the life I had to come.

More about Candy Gourlay, our Writer in Residence

And when you find yourself, your feelings, your aches and pains, in a good book, you feel validated. Alan Bennett, in his play History Boys, says it so well:

'The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.'

But not everyone is a reader. So it may be up to us, the loving adult, to put that special book into the non-reading child’s hand.

If a child is not into books, how can we help books find their way to the child?

Reading for pleasure is about pleasure

'A photo from many years ago: my sports mad son laps up Soccer Mad by Rob Childs as his siblings sleep'

Reading is good for you, but (unlike vegetables) ”good for you” is not a good enough reason for your child to pick up a book. Especially if the goal is turning reading from this tiresome thing that adults bash on about to a thing of wonder.

Reading should not feel like homework.

So here are pleasurable things about reading that I, as your friendly neighbourhood bookworm, wish for you.

May acquiring your book be an adventure

The place where you get the book plays a part in the pleasure of reading it. It might be an enthralling bookstore, with a specially designed space for children’s books, displayed like treasure. It might be your local library, with the kindly children’s librarian. It might be a reading corner in your classroom, that your teacher has decorated like an enchanted wood. Or how about going to a book event, meeting the author and then having your book signed?

May you find a secret place of enchantment to read in

Everyone needs an uninterruptible place to read. This might mean a time during the day when there are no screens, no homework, no domestic demands. It won’t be easy. The loving adult will have to be crafty to enable this, to gift these over-connected children a period when they don’t have to be connected to anything. Maybe they will choose that time to read their book.

And in your book, may you find that tiny lost part of you, waiting to be revealed and nurtured

From babyhood, sport was clearly important to one of my sons, and he fell totally in love with the Soccer Mad series written by Rob Childs. We read the books aloud. We listened to the audiobooks. We could even recite favourite lines. Rob Childs allowed my son to experience that hunger that makes a reader just want to open book after book. It made him confident to try other themes. Today, my son works with young offenders, using rugby and other sport to redirect their lives. Thank you, Rob Childs.

My other son didn’t find it easy to pick up books – he was only enthusiastic for as long as I read to him. I didn’t mind. Reading aloud is one of the pleasures I miss from when my children were little. One summer, someone gave us a DK encyclopedia about fishing. Every night, my son insisted that we read through the pages of different fishing lures and flies (!). And guess what? Today, my son is a marine biologist. Thanks, DK.

You never know where you’re going to find yourself in a book.

May you find the right book for the right child

Our job, as Reading for Pleasure Enablers, is to be like… well, like Netflix. If your kid loves X, then he might like Y. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If your kid loves the combination of domestic and fantastic in Stranger Things, then perhaps he will enjoy the mind-bending The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge. Also: The Midnighters Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. OMG, what a great trilogy! I used to give it away literally like box sets at Christmas because I knew the recipient would be wowed by it.
  • Is your kid into the creepy and the macabre? I have author friends who can oblige – try anything by Frances Hardinge, Cuckoo Song, in particular; or Cliff McNish’s Doomspell trilogy. David Baddiel’s middle grade series are great, a bit like the Twilight Zone of yesteryear. Creepy AND funny.
  • Do fantasy films like Lord of the Rings and Ready Player One appeal? Then it’s world-building that your kid might enjoy! Try Sarwat Chadda’s Ash Mistry adventures: reluctant hero, ancient demons, giant bat… What’s not to like? In Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series, cities gobble each other up and children fly strange flying machines. In Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, there is a world beyond an old stone wall where monsters live and technology doesn’t work… and it’s about to cross over to the normal world.
  • What about thrillers? People who like thrillers need box sets. There are Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike books, Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood and Co, pretty much anything by Teri Terry (who basically killed all of Scotland in her gripping new Contagion series).

I really could go on and on. But I have a final wish for you.

May the pleasure not stop with the book

Remember: the book is just the beginning.

It’s like a portal opening to another world.

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